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'Growth boundary' debate should not be shut off now

November 22, 2000

'Growth boundary' debate should not be shut off now



An elected official's proposal to encourage new commercial development within an "urban growth boundary" around Charles Town and Ranson, W.Va. drew fire Monday night from a business group whose spokesman said it was a "thinly disguised attempt" to restrict the rights of county property owners. If done right, however, such a proposal could provide for a better quality of life while holding down property taxes.

It's essentially the same debate that took place on the Maryland side of the river 10 years ago. Because of concern about rising property taxes, the Frederick County Civic Association asked for a study of impact fees, an idea that quickly gained backers on the Washington County side of South Mountain.

A bill to allow Washington County to enact such fees was passed in 1990, but provided that the county must first adopt something called an adequate facilities ordinance that would allow county officials to reject new developments that would overwhelm existing roads, water and sewer systems.

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Since then, Frederick County has instituted impact fees, but Washington County has not. However, Washington County has created designated "urban growth areas" in which development is encouraged because roads and other public utilities are adequate.

The thought behind all of these proposals and ordinances is that if development takes place far from existing facilities like municipal sewer and water, those will have to be extended, not to mention the roads which will have to be upgraded. The cost for all these upgrades will be borne by all the taxpayers, which is why proposals to minimize such costs make sense, in theory.

In practice, there are plenty of details that should be debated, based on each particular area's needs. In areas like Frederick County, where heavy growth has occurred, impact fees may be the way to go. For other areas, incentives to get developers to locate close to facilities may make more sense. The only unacceptable option is just letting growth happen, without thinking about the consequences for all the taxpayers.

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